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Property owners' biggest complaint carries $3,300 fine

If your dog is keeping your neighbours awake, you might want to fix that. Images: Getty

Animal problems make up more than half of all disputes between neighbours in New South Wales, and barking dogs are the main culprit, new figures have revealed.

Data from the NSW Government’s Community Justice Centres (CJC) has reported that the centre dealt with 6,362 neighbourhood disputes in 2018-19, with 1,394 related to noise.

“Animals account for more than half of noise disputes between neighbours – and the culprit is usually a barking dog,” NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman said.

“Dogs are sociable creatures and tend to bark when they’re lonely, bored and looking for attention – so it’s important for owners to schedule a daily walk and provide toys for their pets to play with when they’re on their own.”

According to the NSW Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), when mediation fails and the noisy dog keeps barking, the local council can issue a nuisance order once it has enough evidence to deem the noise “unreasonably” disturbing.

While the owners have the right to object the notice, once the order has been issued, it remains in force for six months during which the owner must change the dog’s behaviour.

But if the dog keeps barking, the owner is liable for a fine of up to $880 for the first offence. This ratchets up to $1,650 for every subsequent offence.

However, if a disgruntled neighbour decides to take the issue to court, rather than to the local council, owners of a noisy dog can be hit with a maximum penalty of $3,300.

For this sort of penalty, the court needs to be convinced that the noise is harmful to people and interferes with the comfort or rest of other people.

“If the court is satisfied that the dog is causing an offensive noise, or that the noise is likely to recur, it may order the owner to stop the noise within a specified time or prevent a recurrence,” the NSW EPA explains.

Treatment can help cure a noisy dog. Image: Getty

“If the person fails to comply with the order, they could be prosecuted and be liable for a maximum penalty of $3,300.”

But treatment and mediation should always be the first steps, CJC director Katrina Spyrides said.

“The sessions are free and less stressful and time consuming than going to court. Our clients often tell us they were relieved to talk about the effects of the dispute and understand their neighbour’s perspective,” Spyrides said.

More than 80 per cent of mediations achieved a resolution.

RSPCA NSW chief inspector Scott Meyers said treatment was also a powerful remedy.

“Treatment can vary from supplying enrichment toys and activities, to behaviour-modifying training, which should be reward-based and use positive reinforcement,” Meyers said.

The statistics come just days after the Australian Capital Territory government passed legislation demanding dogs be let out at least once every 24 hours, for dogs without backyards.

Owners that don’t exercise their dogs within that time frame face penalties of up to $4,000.

What else do neighbours hate?

These are the top five causes of neighbourhood noise disputes:

  • Animals (mostly barking dogs) – 436

  • People (mostly children, visitors and party guests) – 207

  • Motor vehicles – 101

  • Renovations – 84

  • Machinery (including air conditioners) – 81

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